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U.S. military: Al Qaeda in Iraq seeks female patients as bombers

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  • Source says hospital staffers giving patients' files to al Qaeda in Iraq
  • U.S. military official: Psychiatric hospital chief questioned about helping militants
  • Sources say women in Baghdad's February 1 bombings were mentally challenged
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From Arwa Damon and Jomana Karadsheh
CNN
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Al Qaeda in Iraq is recruiting female patients at Baghdad's two psychiatric hospitals for suicide missions -- with the help of hospital staff -- according to the U.S. military.

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Iraqi men injured in a pet market bombing are carried into a Baghdad hospital February 1.

The U.S. military believes al Qaeda in Iraq has operatives within the hospitals' staffs who are passing on patients' files and contact information to the militant group, a senior U.S. military official said, requesting anonymity.

The apparent recruiting effort came to light this month when Iraqi officials said that two female bombers in deadly pet market attacks in Baghdad that left nearly 100 dead were mentally challenged.

One of the female bombers had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression at Baghdad's Ibn Rushd psychiatric hospital, where she received electric shock treatments, the hospital's director said in an exclusive interview.

As part of the investigation into the February 1 attack, U.S. and Iraqi forces detained the acting director of Baghdad's main psychiatric facility, Rashad Hospital, on Sunday. Video Watch how using women may represent a new tactic »

He faces questions about whether he provided patient files and contact information to al Qaeda in Iraq, a U.S. military spokesman, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, said Wednesday.

The U.S. military is looking into whether there is a direct link between the two hospitals, which are treating an overabundance of Iraqis suffering from psychiatric disorders brought on by the war.

A U.S. military official said information from a source led them to Rashad Hospital's acting director. The U.S. military also said it believes that al Qaeda in Iraq is trying to use other women released from Rashad Hospital to carry out future suicide bombings.

The detained hospital chief took over the position after Rashad's director was fatally gunned down in December reportedly for refusing to cooperate with al Qaeda in Iraq.

Iraqi and U.S. military officials said they believe the two women were unaware they were being used for the February 1 attacks. Iraqi officials said the explosives strapped to their bodies were detonated by remote control, but U.S. officials said the women detonated the explosives themselves.

One of the women was treated at the Ibn Rushd psychiatric hospital. Hospital director Dr. Shaalan Joda asked that the woman's name not be reported out of respect for doctor-patient confidentiality. The U.S. military verified this patient's name.

The woman, who was 35 and married, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression, according to her file.

The patient, who was first treated in December, complained of voices in her head, Joda said.

"They say, 'Go commit suicide,' " Joda said, reading from the woman's file. " 'Go kill yourself. ... Why do you live?' "

The woman stayed at the hospital from January 3 until January 7 before being discharged into the care of her family, according to her file.

She returned twice afterward as an outpatient, receiving a series of electric shock treatments, the last on January 28 -- four days before her death.

The Iraqi government said both women were mentally challenged and had Down syndrome.

Joda said that the 35-year-old patient had the facial characteristics of Down syndrome but that she had not been diagnosed with the chromosomal disorder.

Whether she was a willing participant in the suicide plot, or did so against her will is unclear, Joda said.

But the U.S. military said the women were likely used because they didn't understand the implications of what was happening and they were less likely to be searched.

"From what I see it appears that the suicide bombers were not willing martyrs," Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, commander of Multi-National Division-Baghdad, said the day after the February 1 bombings. "They were used by al Qaeda for these horrific attacks."

Other developments

• At least five civilians were killed and 30 wounded Thursday when a bomb in a parked car detonated at a marketplace in Baghdad's Sadr City, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said. Sadr City is a teeming and largely Shiite slum in the capital.

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• In the hometown of Saddam Hussein, nine members of a family were shot and killed overnight, police in Tikrit said Thursday. Police found the bullet-riddled bodies of a father, mother and their seven children in a house in Awja, just east of Tikrit -- a city in Salaheddin province north of Baghdad. Hussein was buried in Awja after his 2006 execution.

• The U.S. military said American-led coalition troops "killed seven terrorists and detained 16 suspects" on Wednesday and Thursday in raids targeting al Qaeda in Iraq in the central and northern parts of the country. The operations were in Mosul, south of Sharqat, and in Baghdad. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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